Barbican Theatre, London – until 31 October 2021
Sadler’s Wells, London – until 5 September 2021
Two classic revivals — both coincidentally first launched in the spring and summer of 2011, one on Broadway (Anything Goes, in a production directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall), the other at Chichester, before transferring to the West End’s Palace Theatre (Singin’ in the Rain, directed by Jonathan Church with choreography by Andrew Wright) — have returned in triumph on consecutive nights this week.
Both also feature their original headline stars reprising their performances a decade later: Broadway’s Sutton Foster, making her London debut, in Anything Goes, and Adam Cooper in Singin’ in the Rain.
Both are also defiantly retro shows, set in the 1930s and 20s respectively — suggesting that London producers are counting on audiences to want big, splashy, water-based spectacle (the first show is set aboard a transatlantic crossing from New York to England, while the second culminates in a rain-soaked re-creation of the famous Gene Kelly lamp-post routine from the 1952 film it is based on).
And playing to full, non-socially distanced audiences — only some of them wearing masks –they seemed to suggest that the last year and a half has been like a bad hallucination. It’s as if Covid hasn’t happened, And yet Cooper, former Royal Ballet star turned leading man of Singin’ in the Rain, gave a recent interview to The Times in which he said he’d been forced to apply for universal credit to support his family.
So he badly needs the work. And we badly need cheering up. In both endeavours, both shows provide frequently exhilarating choreographic company; but Singin’ in the Rain has the misfortune to follow Anything Goes in the opening order, since — as Cole Porter’s wonderful list song ‘You’re the Top’ would put it — that show is simply the tops in terms of sheer comic energy and its nearly relentlessly manic pace. (Though I’m no longer sure if Porter’s inclusion of “I’m the nominee of the GOP” is exactly something to be proud of as an accomplishment that puts you in the top of your field anymore, post-Trump).
By contrast, Singin’ in the Rain, slavishly adapted from the MGM film that preceded it, is more subdued and sluggish as it slogs through a familiar story of the advent of the talkies in 1920s Hollywood, and the revolution it brought to the film industry; but it comes truly alive in its fantastic numbers (the songs are by Nacho Herb Brown and Arthur Freed), featuring such standards as ‘Lucky Star’, ‘Good Morning, ‘All I do is Dream of You’ and of course the title song.
It goes without saying that the latter makes quite a splash, in every sense, as several thousand tons of water are released onto the Sadler’s Wells stage and Cooper — inheriting the Gene Kelly role of Don Lockwood, silent movie star who is trying to leave behind his shrieks voiced co-star Lina Lamont as he falls for young ingenue Kathy Selden — dances up a storm in the rain.
This beautifully cast production features dancers who can sing and singers who can dance — amongst them are Strictly Come Dancing star Kevin Clifton as Don’s athletic sidekick Cosmo Brown (above right), and the clarion-voiced Charlotte Gooch as the radiantly elegant Kathy Seldon, while Faye Tozer provides fine comic support as Linda Lamont. The fantastically drilled cast execute Andrew Wright’s period choreography with seemingly effortless grace.
But enjoyable as Singin’ in the Rain is, Anything Goes for me exists in a completely different league of both excellence and exhilaration. It’s unquestionably the happiest show of the year so far; heck, it is the most ravishing blast of sheer theatrical energy and high spirits of the whole darn last eighteen months.
Here’s a show to banish all the blues and privations of this grim chapter of our lives; and it comes in a literally ship-shape production. Sutton Foster — making her long overdue London debut reprising her 2011 Tony winning performance as Reno Sweeney — is both radiant and exhilarating. What a treat to have her in town for the summer, before she returns to Broadway to join Hugh Jackman in another classic revival, The Music Man.
She is more than matched by her English counterparts: hers is a diamond-studded star turn for sure, but it is contained in a crown of multi-faceted jewels, especially of the comedic variety. Glory be to Felicity Kendal, scene-stealer of scene-stealers, incredibly appearing in her first-ever musical in her mid-seventies, and veteran musical comedy theatre actors Robert Lindsay and Gary Wilmot, both of them as hilarious as they are charming. There are more traditional musical turns from the effortless Samuel Edwards as Billy Crocker, Nicole-Lily Baisden as Hope Harourt, the woman he is wooing, and Carly Mercedes Dyer as the vampish Erma. Hadyn Oakley is also great comic company as the foppish Lord Evelyn Oakleigh.
Kathleen Marshall’s production, unfolding on Derek McLane’s sleek, elegant ocean liner set, is a summer stunner: a show firing on all cylinders.
Though the summer theatre return has been blighted by the pingdemic that has forced companies to suspend performances from the West End to Blackpool and beyond, let’s hope the happiness of shows like Hairspray (the first out of the gates, at the London Coliseum), Singin’ in the Rain and Anything Goes will restore audience confidence and pleasure in going back to live theatre.
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